The Heart of Lisbon
Our July 4th holiday in Lisbon was the successful, uneventful trip we had been waiting for. We stayed in a perfect AirBnB apartment in the heart of the city’s Chiado neighborhood. We explored as much as our little legs would allow, and most days headed back early for the kids to get much needed rest. Then, Dennis and I would open the windows to let the sounds of the cafes below fill our apartment. After filling our glasses with good Portuguese wine, we'd settle in to read our books until the sun set. City vacations are rarely relaxing, when there is so much to see, and even less so with the under 10 crowd. But, we managed to balance our time well and left with nothing but fond memories of Lisbon.
The city welcomed us in full festive gear. Buntings and banners hung between buildings. Makeshift beer taps and bars lined the hilly streets. While it was our Independence Day, in Lisbon, it was the culminating weekend of a month long celebration of the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of Portugal. While we were never out late enough to join in the festivities, it did add to the fun of being in Lisbon that weekend. And the kids were really fascinated by the remnants the morning after. I’ve never witnessed so many half drank cups of beer and broken glass, all so very quickly cleaned up.
We try to focus on one main tourist attraction a day, as we move slowly and we tire quickly. After that one attraction, we wander around a good bit, so a chronological approach just didn’t make much sense. Instead, I thought I’d start with what we did in the heart of Lisbon.
If we wove our way down from our hill top to the river, we would arrive at the Time Out Market and the impressive array of food vendors within. Time Out, known for their travel magazines, purchased the Mercado da Ribeira, and they filled the food stalls with only the very best of the Lisbon food scene. The space is crowded, but every option – from Michelin-rated chefs to pastry shops – looks like the best option. On our first night, we sampled local Portuguese sandwiches. Then, we went back for more, grabbing Asian noodle take out.
We also grabbed some pastel de nata, traditional Portuguese pastries we stumbled on in the Algarve. The Time Out Market is where we first realized how popular Henry is with the Portuguese ladies, who were stopping him constantly. The sweet girl behind the counter at the pastry stall asked if she could come around and pick up Henry. She then took him to ring a bell they had hanging off to the side. Not 5 minutes later, a group of teenage girls started flirting with him while he gobbled up his sweet. This just continued all week. Later in the trip, we were waiting outside a church when a Eucharistic Minister gave him a candy and an older female attendant grabbed the exiting priest to rave about Henry. I’ve never seen anything like it.
But back to Lisbon and touristy stuff. Outside the Market is a teeny tiny playground and some good climbing trees. Remarkably, it’s moments like those spent watching my kids climb trees in the Lisbon city center when it hits me how wild life is.
In 1755, a large earthquake and tsunami devastated Lisbon and the surrounding areas. In many of our travels in southern Spain and Portugal, we hear of the impacts from this series of events, but nowhere is it felt more acutely than in the former Carmo Convent, which was destroyed and never rebuilt. It is beautiful, yet odd, to stand in the impressive stone remains of a once grand building, now with a grass floor and an even more impressive blue sky ceiling. To make the contrast more striking, the convent stands in the heart of the city. At the back of the church, there is now an archeological museum, which does have floors and a ceiling. I wish we had known, however, that it also has on display two unwrapped mummies. Walking through with Charlotte, I saw them and immediately knew it would be a problem, but couldn’t react fast enough. She panicked, and spent the rest of the weekend making sure we weren’t walking anywhere near “the church.” For what it’s worth, Henry thought the mummies were hysterical.
Museum of the National Republican Guard
We did not go searching this museum out, but it stands right next to the Carmo Convent. The guards standing out front were great advertisement for our little “policeman,” and we couldn’t resist a quick visit. We zipped through in probably 20 minutes, but it was so worth it. This little museum is highly recommended.
Praça do Comércio
The Praça do Comércio is the main square in Lisbon, and an impressive one at that. To follow on the police theme, there was a neat police exhibit in the square where we got to see men in uniform, inspect a robot and detective tools and walk around many different types of police vehicles. Quite the hit. More permanently, there is a large Rua Augusta Arch at the end leading into the city, and views of the River from the other. On one side of the square, we stopped at the Museum of Beer for a drink and sampling of the house Serra da Estrela (codfish and cheese cake, “Two traditional flavors. A unique specialty.”) Unfortunately, there was no museum element to the venue open and the codfish cakes didn’t go over well with our crowd. Across the way, however, was the Vini Portugal Wine Tasting Room, which was a real hit. The kids sat and colored while Dennis and I took turns sampling wines from across Portugal. I would have felt like really cool, hip parents, but Henry kept spilling his water and I knocked over a glass of wine. But, we did it and I had fun. So who cares, right?
This imposing castle can be seen from all over Lisbon, and from within its walls, impressive views of all of Lisbon await. We almost didn’t go into the castle, as we were down to our last travel day and reviews were mixed, however, we are so glad that we decided to make the effort. The castle is just a shell, and virtually all of it is a reconstruction. Nothing original exists. But what an amazing playground for our kids to explore and let their imaginations run crazy. There were canons to fire and castle walls to storm and peacocks to bark out. It was the perfect way to let loose before a long car ride and the perfect way to cap an amazing weekend. Because, I think I mentioned the views were spectacular, and we were able to spot all of the sites we had seen over the days proceeding. I should also mention we did take the rickety historic Tram 28 up to the castle. It was ok, but we did it. The walk back down through the Alfama neighborhood was more enjoyable.
As we wandered down the narrow streets of the Alfama, we made a small, unplanned detour to the birthplace and church of St. Anthony of Padua. It was a beautiful, yet small church. It was also neat to walk into the crypt that was the birthplace of this great saint, as well as a spot where Saint Pope John Paul II prayed on a visit to Lisbon in 1982. This was a short stop, but a peaceful one, and I loved the conversations it inspired with Charlotte. Sometimes the less touristy spots leave more for the traveler to consider on her own.
Things that feed us
We had a few great food experiences, and one book store stop that is worth noting.
O Trevo: This humble shop right in the heart of it all sells quintessentially Portuguese bifana (pork sandwiches) for next to nothing to tourists and locals alike. We bought a bag of them to carry back to the apartment and they were enjoyed by Charlotte and the adults in our family. I think we would have enjoyed them more with the mustard, as recommended, but we didn’t realize that until it was too late. Take out is awesome, but there are drawbacks.
The B Temple: One of the top restaurants in Lisbon had no available reservations, but we were the only ones in the place at 4:30pm. We enjoyed the burgers, the fries, the beers, and the inspirational quotes all around. I might not have mentioned before, but Lisbon loves inspirational quotes!
Ginjinha: This cherry liqueur is a trademark of Lisbon, and we were lucky enough to sleep right around the corner from cute Ginjinha do Combro. We popped in to sample the drink in the typical chocolate shot glass. We were instructed to take a small sip, then toss the rest – chocolate cup and all – right in your mouth. Tasted just like a delicious cherry cordial. The kids were thrilled to each partake in a chocolate shot glass, sans ginjinha.
Bertrand Bookstore, Chiado: We stumbled upon the oldest bookstore in continuous operation, just down the street from The B Temple. Neat building and lots of books in Portuguese. Even neater were the street vendors that lined the street outside selling old books, maps, and postcards. Trips expose us to new things and open our hearts and minds, but also have a fun way of reminding us of home. This stop made me think of my dad, and I hope my kids always search out book stores and maps on all of their journeys.